Why Do Stray Cats Rub Against Your Legs?

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Cats do not learn their social skills by restricting their interaction to only cats. The truth is that cats have innate feline tendencies that are automatically understood by other animals. They are, however, not always plain and clear to humans. It is reasons such as this that cause cats to have specific non-verbal cues for humans. Did you know that a cat will blink to say he or she loves you?

The stray cats in the park do not lack in these vivid physical displays. Some of these cats had previous owners while others have grown to know the place as their native home. A few people who frequent the park gained cat friends who would jump on their lap, blink, and rub on their legs among other expressions. Stray cats who find comfort with new owners may also be excessively affectionate around the legs of their owners.

What is the scientific explanation for this behavior?

Cats within our homes have the same display of affection or other expressions as stray cats according to Dr. Tricia Heine. Tricia is a veterinary scientist working at the University of Illinois College in the veterinary medicine division. She has several formal studies and casual observations of the biological behavior of cats. Dr. Tricia states that cats are by no means having a display of aggression when they rub against your legs.

Dr. Heine reveals that cats have sensitive smell glands around their chins, mouths, lips, and forehead. Cats transfer these scents on anything they come in contact with, such as your legs. Your cat is merely ensuring that it knows who is their new best friend the next time they come around. She, however, revealed that cats do not always require you to reciprocate the affection. This especially happens if you have dark clothing on their favorite section of your leg. This behavior does not seem very loving and affectionate. So why exactly do stray cats rub against your leg?

What is the raw truth about the behavior?

  • PetPlace explains this behavior to be as plain as it looks – Cats are marking their territory in an aggressive yet docile manner. The site acknowledges the presence of scent deposits in the cat’s face, known as pheromones. Cats not only transfer these scents to humans, but they also rub them on their favorite chill spot in the garden or the couch.
  • The behavior is evident in other feline creatures as well as animals. A Jaguar will remember their favorite branch on the tree from the deposit of the pheromones. Dogs will mark their territory with urine and have a more possessive trait toward these locations. Cats variate in their behavior because they are not entirely territorial.
  • Cats will defend their location in the garden when another cat approaches, seeming to get comfortable in their marked spot. The behavior will not be evident if other human encroaches the same location.
  • Cats do not expect us to reciprocate the behavior. They may accept our touch or go in the opposite direction and scratch us for attempting to affirm their physical contact.

Understanding why stray cats have to rub against your leg

Have you ever seen a herd of cats? I bet you have not. Cats are fiercely independent creatures that live their daily lives independent of the weight of other felines and human interference. They, however, do not have a problem herding humans. Here are the reasons why stray cats have the territorial behavior of rubbing against your legs.

Marking the territory

Your favorite cat in the park has such a fondness to you that they want to possess your entire being. They want other cats to know that they were there, and they will return to check on their priced property. This claim is a universally understood law in the feline world, especially for the stray community. You will observe this when you bring the cat home and they rub their cheeks against you while trying to claw their way around your body gently.

Apart from the abundant deposits of pheromones on the facial glands of the cat, they also have scent releases from the pads of their paws and anal region. Scent communication lingers for long periods, allowing them to pace and monitor their territory throughout the day. This seems like a better way to communicate their presence in the region, in comparison to hissing and purring at every invader in the vicinity.


Cats have a sneaky way of getting their way on the world since their civilization and orientation into the human world. Stray cats have a harder time getting food and security, hence they develop harsher modes of survival. They can tell when your emotions have excited arousal after they let you give them a belly rub at the park. Cats will walk between your legs and purr to get a bite off your plate.

They will rub against your leg to build a stronger conviction case because they expect you to enjoy the favor of having a physical touch. Observe your cat’s physical proximity to you during meal times or their usual time for treats. It is fair to say that humans play a huge role in teaching this behavior to cats.

The assumption that they are manipulative while rubbing against your leg is an expert opinion backed by Dilara Goskel Parry. Dilara is the author of Feline Minds and has well-documented archives about the behavior of cats. Parry describes the act of rubbing against our legs as a reactionary habit that forms from a culture of giving treats to cats. We reinforce the behavior when we hastily provide rewards for cats, in an attempt to keep them away and prevent further interference.

Identification of their clan members

One cat expert, Krieger, explains that the nearest cat herding happens when cats bunt each other’s heads. He explains that this form of communication shows other cats their approval. They will touch heads to single out who is for the association within their living setup. Over time, a group of cats in the same living space will share a communal scent that bottom lines their cooperation. They do not customize this behavior when communicating the same matter to humans.

The cat is anatomically mixing their scent with our bodily smell when they rub against our legs in the street. A cat will not touch you with a ten-foot pole if you do not have an understanding of them. Touching you shows that they allow you into their midst and presence. Their verbal communication would say that you are a part of their group along with their other cat friends in the vicinity.


Dr. Stephanie Borns is a professor of Animal Behavior at Tufts University in North Grafton Mass who understands the predatory behavior of cats. He states that they use all their sensory gifts to pull out information from their environment. A cat will rub against your legs to estimate their likeness to your personality.

Adopted stray cats use these olfactory senses to size up visitors within the home. They will persist in the behavior if they estimate that the person is of an amicable personality. Dr. Stephanie, however, warns that the practice may not always be an invitation for affection with all cats. It is prudent that you wait and watch the cat while they circle your feet before attempting to return the physical attention.

A show of love

A cat can afford to ignore you all day if you spend your time next to its living spaces. They may, however, give in to the temptation of rubbing against your legs when you get back home from a vacation. Stray cats who begin to let you in will tear down their defensive walls by giving you tiny physical touches. Gentler cats will spend a bit of their evening at your feet while you take your dinner. This display of love will be evident when they get accustomed to the new home addition, such as a newborn or a visitor.

Why would the cat target the legs?

Do you understand the difference between when you bump fists with a friend and when you hold a friendly hug for longer than a second? This physical reaction also applies to cats when they interact with cats. Why do cats choose to touch your leg? Do they decide to rub themselves solely on human feet?

A cat will rub against your face when they feel an intimate connection with the person. They will add a head bump when they want to communicate their friendliness. It is usually the more elderly or confident cats that will not have a problem bumping their heads with yours.

Choosing to rub their body parts against our legs is a cautious choice when trying to interact. While it does signify affection and acceptance, it is not as intimate as a head bump. Rubbing the lowest parts of our bodies gives them enough physical contact while giving them space from intense interactions with our faces or touchy hands. Comfortable and confident cats may end the association by wrapping their tail around their legs as the last sign of their warm extension to humans they like.

How can you reinforce this friendly behavior?

You will probably enjoy it when your rescued stray cat is choosing to have a civil existence within the home. It is ten times better for the cats to camp under your seat than knock things off the kitchen counters. How can you continue to foster this sweet and happy behavior?

  • Do not always rush to return the physical favor when they initiate the touch. Take time to observe their behavior before gently extending your affection and appreciation. Cats are not particularly obsessed with the human touch and tend to reject unwanted love, ultimately leading to consistent distance in the end.
  • When the cat accepts your touch, it is imperative that you continue the treatment at least until they give you a cue to stop. They will be happy to come home to you for a little reunion after a long day apart of them hunting birds or mice.
  • Be selective with your affection by gently stroking around the ears and head. Cats prefer touch around these body parts and more often despise full-body pets on a regular. Rubbing their back or head is a respectable way of fostering long-standing warmth within the home.
  • Do not slam shut all doors behind you. Your affectionate cat will follow you into the bathroom or the bedroom to lie on your feet. Leave a crack in the door to assure them that they are always welcome in your space.

How can you stop stray cats from rubbing against your legs?

The truth is that it is not only cats that have a phobia of excessive pets and cuddles. Some of us do not enjoy furry sneaks on our legs or the health risks of getting close to stray cats. Rescued stray cats may develop an addiction to human touch and unknowingly cause little untimely nuances throughout the day. There are prudent ways of supporting the cat’s behavior without creating an emotional barrier.

  • Purchase a scratching post for the cats in your most frequented public setting such as a spot in the park
  • Gently lift the cat away from your legs and give them a treat when they get a hint of your actions’ purpose. This will reinforce them to opt against rubbing their pheromones against the Gucci perfume on your legs.


It is important to note that a cat does not always pose a threat when they approach your legs. Touching your legs is a real show of affection that should not meet harsh retaliation. Constant deflection of their friendship may make the cat cold and potentially hostile in the long run.


The amount of time a cat takes to fiddle around your legs has little to do with the human’s behavior and a lot to do with the cat’s mental state. We cannot predict when a new cat wants to rub our feet. There are, however, specific conditions that encourage or deter the cat from our vicinity.

Sometimes, you may be forced to make a militant decision that will stop the cat from transferring dirt or undetected infection. Alternatively, you may gladly accept the honor of becoming the next of kin in the cats’ clan of trustees. Ensure that whichever decision you make does not leave you with fresh claw marks at every attempt.

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